We dropped into a music store in the New Hampshire town of Manchester, where we heard a warm, rich, resonant baritone floating among the Gibson and Martin guitars and vintage banjos, fiddles and mandolins.
We didn't recognize the voice, but we agreed we would not leave the store without a cassette of the unknown singer. Sadly, my marriage ended a few years ago. Happily, John Gorka is still going strong.
In fact, the Minnesota-based singer/songwriter launches the ninth annual Folk Night at the Registry season Saturday, Oct. 4. This isn't Gorka's first trip to Kitchener. In the spring of 2007, he performed an On Stage concert at Centre in the Square.
He was familiar with the area before that, having appeared at Maryhill's Commercial Tavern in 1993, the University of Guelph in 1994 and the Hillside Festival in 1999. Gorka enjoys performing in Canada. He even compares where he lives near the St. Croix River to Canada. "I love the natural beauty," he confirmed over the phone from his home outside Minneapolis-St. Paul.
"I like the people; they are nice, open and pleasant to be around. He recalls when Dala, the Toronto-based folk duo, visited. "They said 'the people here are really nice, they are almost Canadian.' I had to agree."
The first time I heard Gorka, he was a young, single singer/songwriter just making a name for himself with a couple of albums notched on his belt.
Now married with two elementary school-aged children, he is celebrated as one of America's most esteemed acoustic recording artists, with a dozen solo albums to his credit including his most recent, "Bright Side of Down."
When asked how his life has changed over the last quarter century, he immediately points to family. "Getting married and becoming a dad changes everything. When I was younger, I used to think ahead a week or two.
When I became a father, I started thinking decades ahead." Gorka's natural baritone has always been praised by music commentators, along with his masterful songwriting. When he was an emerging songwriter, Gorka worked on songs in the morning. "I would wake up slowly and monitor the thoughts and images that emerged. I'd wait until the song presented itself."
A pair of eager, early risers modified his writing schedule, but didn't change Gorka's focus and approach to songwriting. "Songs can come from anywhere, at any time. I try to be ready to receive them, then I get out of the way. A song knows what it wants to be better than I do.
"I try to make a clearing so it can make its way into the world." Gorka usually works on lyrics first. He lets lyrics sit for a while in a notebook. "It's a form of intentional neglect after an initial burst of writing. If true feelings attach themselves to the words, I know they will take on an independent form of life. "If I get a few verses down, I always come up with the music afterwards."
Gorka pays homage to the late Bill Morrissey on "Bright Side of Down." A celebrated singer/songwriter and avid fly angler with a chronic alcohol problem, Morrissey died July 23, 2011. Gorka remembers his friend with a cover, "She's That Kind of a Mystery," and with an original tribute, "Don't Judge a Life."
"I wanted people to remember Bill as a great writer and artist rather than as a man who died young. He was a great personal friend." Gorka's touching song ends: .
judge a life by the way it ends